Instant Expert: The Pixies
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: the Pixies.
The Pixies were one of indie rock's most turbulent bands. From the start, singer, guitarist and main songwriter Black Francis feuded with his bandmates, especially bassist Kim Deal, who also occasionally wrote and sang. (The tail end, or maybe it's the very start, of one of their arguments can be heard on their 1988 debut album, 'Surfer Rosa.') But their temperamental relationship made for some equally volatile music, a blistering mix of post-punk, noise-rock and the occasional surf-rock-Spanish-speaking-indie-rock hybrid. They originally lasted only a few years, breaking up after four influential albums and one EP. But they reunited in the mid '00s for a couple of lucrative world tours, with no intention of making any new music together. Presumably because they still can't be in a room with one another for that long.
The Pixies' debut album, 'Surfer Rosa,' is one of the cornerstones of late-'80s indie rock. Not only has Steve Albini's production influenced 75 percent of everything related to alt-rock over the past 20 years, but the brooding mid-album centerpiece 'Where Is My Mind?' plays under a pivotal scene in 'Fight Club,' one of the cornerstones of late-'90s cinema. Plus, 'Gigantic' is the best-ever pairing of that boy-girl thing Black Francis and Kim Deal did so well.
'Doolittle,' the band's second album, includes their best batch of songs. 'Here Comes Your Man' and 'Monkey Gone to Heaven' were both deservedly modern-rock hits in 1989. Plus, the playing isn't as sloppy as it is on 'Surfer Rosa,' so the group actually sounds in tune and in control most of the time.
Everything the Pixies were about can be found in their absolute rawest forms on their 1987 debut EP: the overtly sexual lyrics, the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic, songs sung in Spanish. It all starts here.
I didn't know Curly sang for the Pixies. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!